Papillion-La Vista South swept two of the three top seeded teams in the first two rounds of the Class A state tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena to advance to the state title match at the Devaney Sports Center Saturday.
The seventh seeded Papio South Titans swept the No. 2 seed Elkhorn South Storm 3-0 (25-21, 26-24 and 25-21) to advance to the semifinals in the Class A state tournament against Lincoln Pius X.
“(This last month) never surprised me,” Papio South head coach Katie Wright said. “I think it’s surprised other people, but I’ve known what they are capable of from the beginning. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
The Titans got off to a great start, taking the first set 25-21. Their communication and movement was in great shape early in this one and that set the tone for the entire match.
The Titans then won a tightly contested second set 26-24, fending off multiple runs by the Storm and closing out the set in strong fashion.
The Storm went up 15-10 in the third, but a 7-2 run from the Titans made it 17-17.
Papio South took a 20-18 lead, forcing an Elkhorn South timeout. The Titans would use this momentum to ride out a victory in the third 25-21, winning the match in the process.
The Titans shut the door on an Elkhorn South team that came back from 2-0 down against Gretna in the semifinal match of the Metro Tournament two weeks ago.
“I told them after set two, that they did that and are capable of coming back after two losses,” Wright said. “So we expected them to fight and we know that they’ve got some really great players. But we also knew what our game plan was and we stuck to it.”
Sophie Hendrix totaled 14 kills and 22 digs, while Dalanie Vallinch and Ava LeGrand added 25 and 19 digs, respectively. Ashlyn Dierks added 16 digs and 12 assists.
The Titans defense did most of the damage throughout the game. Even when it didn’t result in points, Papio South deflected most of the Storm’s kill attempts. The Titans totaled 13 solo blocks in the match.
“We talk about staying the course all the time and how we let the other team make the error. We just get the ball back over and we played with patience until it’s our turn to put the ball away,” Wright said. “So, I think, they’re showing that maturity. They’re kind of a young team. We’ve got a freshman and two sophomores that we lean on. So we’re pretty young, but I think they’re maturing rapidly.”
In the semifinal, Papillion-La Vista South swept No. 3 Lincoln Pius X (25-23, 25-15 and 25-23) to advance to the Class A state championship against Gretna.
“This group has shown that they are a special group that is for sure,” Wright said. “I’ve been a coach for a few years, and I’ve never worked with a team that’s embraced what I’m teaching.
“They bought in and it’s not me. It’s them. They are the ones that are embracing that philosophy of overcoming adversity. When something bad happens, it’s going to happen because that what the game of volleyball is sometimes. They’re figuring out it’s not about them, it’s about the team and the goal they set. When they do that, they all become successful.”
The first set featured a back and fourth match. The Titans jumped out to a 10-7 before the Thunderbolts scored five-straight points to lead 12-10. Then with the set tied at 22-all, Pius took the lead before Papio South scored three straight, including a kill by LeGrand and Emma O’Neill, to win the set.
“We’ve never been an offensive team until about halfway through the year,” Wright said. “At that point, we realized we’ve got to hit the ball harder, we have to get up and take swings. But if we don’t put the ball down, we’re not gonna win many games.
“It took me a while to figure out who was needed to be where because they are so well rounded. They all have the ability to do different things, so finding what the best mix is has been a challenge but I think we’re there now.”
After Lincoln Pius X jumped ahead 5-1 in the second set, Papio South controlled the rest of the set. The Titans rolled to a 16-2 run to lead 17-7. Pius cut the deficit to 21-13 but the Titans scored the next five of seven points to take the second set.
The Titans were amid defeat in the third set, but showed why they’re heading to the state title game. The Thunderbolts led 20-15, before a serving error by Pius, two aces by LeGrand and a violtation by Pius cut the Titan deficit to 20-19.
After the Thunderbolts scored, the Titans scored four straight and six of the next eight to advance to take on Gretna in the Class A state championship tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center.
“I think we are the most feared team, obviously. We’re just hot right now,” Wright said.